Williamson County school board members in Tennessee will vote on a preliminary draft of a religion policy Monday night (June 20). The course of action, as required by a new state law, reinforces the expectation that religion will be taught objectively.
Debates about how to teach religion in Tennessee public schools have been under way for the past year, as previously reported in The Gospel Herald on March 2, 2016: Religious Teaching in Tennessee Public Schools Debated, House Passes Bill to Restrict Proselytizing
Activists and some concerned parents said they worried their middle school students are being "indoctrinated" with a sanitized version of Islam. Tennessee legislators got involved, determined educators could still teach students about religion, but not in any way that proselytizes, and passed a bill to that effect. The bill also requires school systems make available to the public what materials are used.
The policy draft in Williamson is meant to amend a religious holiday policy to include language that meets the requirements of the state law. "Educational content which consists of religious themes shall be presented only in a factual, objective, and respectful manner," the draft policy states.
The policy also prohibits school employees from using curriculum about religion to proselytize or inject personal religious beliefs into a discussion, reports the Tennessean.
The new state law requires parent access to course curriculum, course pacing and required major assignments in all social studies, science, math and English courses in grades 6-12.
Examples of the religions currently covered in the curriculum include Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Daoism, African, Protestant Reformation, as well as the beliefs of Native Americans and Japan's Shinto faith.
Franklin Special School District school board members just approved the first reading of a similar policy, reports the Tennessean. School districts must approve the new policies before the start of the school year; both districts go through a total of three policy readings before final approval.
Williamson County school board member Beth Burgos said she would propose changes to the draft in a future meeting, according to the Tennessean, indicating she would like the district to have a separate policy to address religion in curriculum, not just an amendment to the religious holiday policy.
"There's a lot of details that need to be addressed," Burgos said.
Burgos previously proposed an anti-terrorism policy and a resolution that would have enabled parents to review class materials for religious bias. After heated debates, neither proposals reached an official school board vote earlier this year.
Burgos' proposals followed a wave of statewide concern about how religion is taught in schools, and questions specifically regarding accuracy, class supplemental materials and potential indoctrination associated with a middle school social studies unit about the rise and spread of Islam.